Covid bonus for Republic's frontline workers could cost €1 billion – McGrath
A planned Covid “bonus” for frontline workers could cost up to €1 billion, the public expenditure minister has said.
The Dublin government is planning a one-off bonus, either a cash lump sum or additional leave days, for frontline workers in recognition of their efforts during the pandemic.
The HSE has estimated that a claim for 10 days leave for healthcare workers alone would cost at least €377 million.
But that figure would rise to over one billion when extended across the public service, Minister Michael McGrath told the Dáil today.
He said: “The minimum cost of €377 million could exceed half a billion when agency staff and overtime is factored in to allow people take leave.
“To extend that across the public service, the cost would be €1 billion.”
During Leaders’ Questions, Labour leader Alan Kelly accused the government of trying to reverse its commitment to the workers.
He said: “Anyone reading the headlines this morning about a Covid bonus for frontline workers will hear the sounds of wheels rapidly reversing in the Department of Finance and Public Expenditure.
“On Monday was floated that a recognition payment will be announced on Budget Day, but the scare mongering is now under way.
“Sources today say a special payment or leave would eat up the cash available for Budget Day.
“What’s going on Tánaiste?
“Are we forgetting these workers?”
Responding, Leo Varadkar insisted the government remains committed to the Covid bonus.
He said: “We will engage with the unions and worker representatives around recognition bonus for staff who did the extra mile, went out of their way, during the pandemic.
“We want to do it, they deserve it and I think the public wants us to do it as well.
“We want there to be recognition payments, or additional leave.
“I’m not sure exactly how it would be done.
“It would be better if it fell into this financial year than next year, but that’s not the most important thing.”
Mr Varadkar said calculating the bonus in a fair way was “complicated.”
He said: “There were people who put in enormous extra hours, like you mentioned, but there are also people who didn’t.
“That mightn’t have been through any fault of their own, it was just that their services were reduced or shut down and they weren’t redeployed.
“So calculating it in a way that is fair is not straightforward.
“We don’t want to create a division between some sectors and others within the public service, and we don’t want to create a division within sectors either.”
Mr Varadkar said he could not provide exact timelines for the introduction of the bonus.
He added: “This doesn’t have to be a Budget Day decision, but it might be.
“But this is something that has been led by Minister McGrath.
“I know he wants to engage with the unions and with the labour employer economic forum, wants to talk to the party leaders about it, and wants to be able to come up with a proposal that Government can then endorse.”